Here, I answer questions I’ve been asked by people who have visited my site. (Duhhh… yeah, Don, we get that.) I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any questions or comments please relay them to me. I promise to send you a reply and I might even post your name and question if you don’t mind.
Fred from Birmingham asked: Have you ever had any movie or TV interest in your books?
ANS: As soon as my first Andy and Kit adventure was published I got a call from my agent saying, “There’s a flurry of movie and TV interest in your book.” That was totally unexpected and therefore, a huge, but pleasant shock.
Shortly thereafter, we sold an option on the series to the producers of the Cagney and Lacey detective show. It was their intent to get Andy and Kit on TV as a weekly series. As well placed as these guys were (one was the former head of programming at CBS) they were unable to put a deal together in the five years they held the option. Oh, they got close… even convinced CBS to pay for a pilot screenplay. At that point they were so sure they’d at least get to film a pilot, they told me I could have a bit part in it. Though it never came to fruition, I found all the attention extremely exciting and addictive. (And I made a little money, too)
There just seems to be something about those books that makes people think they should be a TV series. Even after those heavy-hitters let their option lapse, another producer gave it a try. A few years after he failed, another one got Wilford Brimley to agree to play Broussard. Brimley was the perfect actor for the part and the one I’ve always wanted to play Broussard. But once again, things didn’t work out. But boy did I have fun imagining what it would be like if it ever happened.
Beth from Philadelphia asked: Who’s your favorite writer?
ANS: There are so many I don’t know where to begin. Tess Gerritsen, Michael Palmer, and Lewis Perdue are certainly high on my list. But I’m going to put Steven King at the top. Even though I don’t write his kind of story, I’ve learned so much from his books he gets number one.
Charlene from St. Louis asked: I’ve heard you should avoid the use of coincidence in writing novels. Do you agree?
ANS: About the only time I would consider using coincidence in a book is if it worked against my main character. You absolutely can’t use coincidence to help your protagonist. The only reason you could possibly get away with it if it hurt your main character is that readers would likely accept it because they’d think “That’s the same kind of c..p that happens to me all the time.” Seriously, you shouldn’t use it at all. Sometimes people will get back a critique of their writing that criticizes the use of coincidence and they’ll try to defend it by saying “But that actually happened to me.” Yes… coincidence is a definite part of life. For example:
In my second book, Kit finds a human skeleton buried in her backyard. In the book, there was a tube of toothpaste found with the remains. Through the lot number on the tube, the approximate time of death was determined and ultimately, the identify of the deceased was figured out from missing persons records. What I wrote was actually based on a real case from the files of a Memphis forensic anthropologist. When the book came out, I gave the first copy to the U. of Tennessee library for a display they were creating. Well, the next day I see the librarian and she says, “That was Bernice’s body.”
What she meant was the skeleton in the real case was found in her aunt’s backyard. What are the chances that the first person in Memphis to read the book was related to the woman who found the body? What a coincidence. Yes, it really happened but I could never put that correlated event in a book because nobody would believe it. Real life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does.
Ken from Atlanta asked: Which book is your favorite?
ANS: That’s a bit like asking which of your kids is your favorite. I generally find that I always like the newest a bit better than the others, probably because it’s the closest reflection of who I am at the time.
Ann from Cincinnati asked: Do you outline or just make it up as you go along?
ANS: I can’t imagine how one would just start writing without a plan. In my mysteries I always know who committed the murder(s) and why. If you don’t know that when you start how could you create the appropriate clues and insert pertinent red herrings? In a mystery series the main characters should undergo some kind of change… grow in some way, or discover something about themselves they didn’t know… And that, too, involves planning. Also, where will the story be set? Sure, if it’s one of my mysteries, at least some of it will take place in New Orleans, but exactly where? Before I start writing, I’ll usually scout locales in the city and even take pictures of the surroundings. If I describe someone strolling through the French Quarter, I will have walked the route myself to get it right. One of my medical thrillers takes place in Wisconsin. Before writing that one, I flew to Madison and spent several days there getting acquainted with the city and riding around with a fellow who writes a farm column. This guy took me to corporate dairy farms, family farms, and places where farmers eat so I could hear them talk and get a feel for how they think. During that trip a cow pooped on my shoes. Do I plan before I write… you betcha.
Karen from Wichita asked: How did you learn to write? Did you take a lot of writing courses?
ANS: I have never taken a writing course, mostly because I had the vague feeling there were a lot of writing teachers that had never made it themselves, so all they would be teaching me is how to fail. Because of that, I figured I’d just teach myself. In science, which is my background, we do it all the time. Since then, I’ve discovered there’s a lot a good writing teacher can show you. But no instructor can teach you how to make the magic that’ll get you published. You have to discover that for yourself.
So I began to read all the best-selling authors with the intention of dissecting their books to see why they work so well. But with a great author, it’s hard to keep that focus. Before I’d realize it I’d forget my goal and just be carried along by the story. Then I’d remember what I was supposed to be doing and I’d backtrack in the story to see how the author had so completely captured my attention. One of the things I learned in my analysis phase was the value of surprise. I think it was a scene in Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides where I learned that a writer should never give readers what they expect or let them figure out the puzzles before the solutions are revealed in the book. But like all things of great value, true surprise is not easily achieved. Still, it should always be on a writer’s mind.
Allen from Des Moines asked: What’s the hardest part of writing a novel?
ANS: None of it is easy, but for me one of the most difficult tasks is to come up with a good title. The title is what grabs a potential reader and makes them look harder at the book with an eye toward buying it. No matter what title I come up with I always think If I was smarter, I could do better. Which of these titles is best? TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY or GONE WITH THE WIND. Yikes, is there any question about that one? Finding the correct name for a character is another crucial issue. I’ve heard that the main female character in GONE WITH THE WIND was initially named PANSY O’HARA. Come on…. PANSY? How much better is SCARLETT O’HARA? It’s not even close.